Man with a mission

Prakash Padukone... “If the game is packaged in an attractive way and one runs events in a professional manner, there will be sponsors.”-K. BHAGYA PRAKASH

Prakash Padukone wants to see one of his trainees become an Olympic champion. “I always dream about that and when that happens, I will retire from coaching,” he says in a chat with Kalyan Ashok.

The National Championship in Guwahati was a very memorable one for the wards of the Tata-Padukone Academy as all the four women’s singles semifinalists were from the Bangalore-based institution. And so were the men’s finalist Anup Sridhar and semi-finalist Arvind Bhat.

The women’s doubles winner, Ashwini Ponnappa (with Jwala Gutta), also belonged to the TPBA. The remarkable performances of these players speak volumes about the commitment and passion of Prakash Padukone, who started his academy in 1994, at the modest Prakash courts, tucked away in the Canara Union in Malleswaram, in Bangalore.

“As I look back, I feel we have made our fair share of contribution to Indian badminton. Right from the days I had Aparna Popat, Manjusha Pawangadkar and Gopi Chand with me to the present lot of players like Anup Sridhar, Arvind Bhat, Trupti Murgunde, Sayali Gokhale, Aditi Mutatkar and Aditya Prakash, our academy has played a major role in giving the country a constant supply of talented players and I can take pride in saying that we played a part in India being a major force in the world,” said Padukone.

He was pleased that Trupti Murgunde had won the national title after a long wait and he considered her as one of the most skilful and technically sound players. According to Padukone, Trupti has the game to beat anyone, provided she improved her fitness. “That I would say for all Indian girls barring Saina, who is a cut above the rest, because she has the attributes of speed, power and fitness in good measure,” he said.

Padukone stressed the need for Indian players to focus on being consistent at the international level. “Skill-wise, our players are second to none, but it is how they cope with the pressure, remain focussed and stay on their feet that matters a lot on the international circuit,” said the maestro.

He welcomed the exposure that has been provided to Indian players and also the juniors by the Badminton Association of India (BAI). “I really don’t know if the status quo will remain after the Commonwealth Games and the onus is certainly on the players to keep up the momentum,” said Padukone.

As far as the Tata-Padukone Badminton Academy is concerned, he said, that it would continue to back its players. “Even if BAI and our Government help come through, we wish to give them as much as we can. We plan to send Aditya Prakash to Europe this season. Aditi Mutatkar has been training in Paris and Anand Pawar in Denmark. Training in Europe also helps one to play in quite a few tournaments there,” said Padukone.

The former All-England champion is of the view that there should be more domestic tournaments. “It is important for both seniors and juniors; if there are just a couple of tournaments how do our juniors judge their standing unless they play the seniors regularly? I wish BAI has more domestic tournaments, and also insists that all top players play in as many of these tournaments. As much as they deserve their rights, players also have their responsibilities. After a certain stage, a player needs to think about what he or she should do for the game,” said Padukone.

“When we have more events, greater will be the publicity for the game. And when we have a well-defined schedule of tournaments, the game will be under the media scanner and the sponsors will come in … it’s all a cycle, we cannot just say ‘Oh, there are no takers for the game here’. I have had people coming to me and asking me, ‘Can we do something for badminton?’ And I am not BAI!,” said Padukone.

“If the game is packaged in an attractive way and one runs events in a professional manner, there will be sponsors,” said Padukone.

Padukone also expects the game’s administrators to look at ways to promote the game in an innovative manner. “I think cricket virtually re-invented itself with Twenty20 and IPL. Yes, we can also think in terms of having a Badminton Premier League. In fact, there were a few who showed interest but then it is up to BAI to come up with ideas and I will certainly back such a move,” said Padukone.

The Tata-Padukone Badminton Academy might be churning out champions with clock-work precision but Padukone looks forward to a day when one of his trainees becomes an Olympic champion.

“I always dream about that and when that happens, I will retire from coaching,” said Padukone.